THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD
December 24, 2021
IN THE NAME OF JESUS, WELCOME TO ST. PAUL’S!
PRELUDE Noel no. 10 Louis-Claude Daquin
CALL TO WORSHIP (Stand) #384 Of the Father’s Love Begotten
(Stanza one is sung by solo voice.)
1 Of the Father’s love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see
Evermore and evermore.
3 This is He whom seers in old time
Chanted of with one accord,
Whom the voices of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word.
Now He shines, the long-expected;
Let creation praise its Lord
Evermore and evermore.
4 O ye heights of heav’n, adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing.
Pow’rs, dominions, bow before Him
And extol our God and King.
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Ev’ry voice in concert ring
Evermore and evermore.
In the name of the Father and of the Son ✠ and of the Holy Spirit.
INTROIT from Psalm 98
Oh sing to the LORD a new song,
For he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The LORD has made known his salvation;
He has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Let us pray. O God,
because you once caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light, grant that we who have known the mystery of that Light here on earth may come to the full measure of its joys in heaven; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
PROCESSIONAL HYMN #379 O Come All Ye Faithful
(As the cross is brought forward, the Congregation turns to face the front)
1 O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant!
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold Him
Born the king of angels: Refrain
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord!
2 Highest, most holy,
Light of Light eternal,
Born of a virgin, a mortal He comes;
Son of the Father
Now in flesh appearing! Refrain
3 Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God
In the highest: Refrain
P: Beloved in Christ, at this Christmastide let it be our care and delight to hear again the message of the angels, and in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger. Let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the story of the loving purposes of God and the glorious redemption brought us by this Holy Child. But first, let us pray for the needs of the whole world; for peace on earth and goodwill among all His people, for unity within the Church He came to build, and especially in this congregation. And because this would rejoice His heart, let us remember, in His name, the poor and helpless, the cold, the hungry, and the oppressed; the sick and those who mourn, the lonely and the unloved, the aged and little children; all those who know not the Lord Jesus, or who love Him not, or who by sin have grieved His heart of love. Lastly, let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us but upon another shore, and in a greater light, that multitude which no man could number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom in the Lord Jesus we are one forevermore.
C: Into your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OLD TESTAMENT READING (Be seated) Isaiah 9:2–7
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (ESV)
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
NEW TESTAMENT READING Titus 2:11-14
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
HYMN #376 vs. 1, 2, 4 “Once in Royal David’s City”
1 Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child.
2 He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor and mean and lowly
Lived on earth our Savior holy.
4 And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in heav’n above;
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.
This is the time where I would normally invite the children to come forward for the children’s sermon. But I think it’s still best for the kids to remain in the pews with their parents right now. And some of you are joining us online. Wherever you are, I’m pretty sure you can see what I have here. Yes, it’s a Christmas gift. A big one!
One of the great Christmas traditions is the giving of gifts. God gave a gift to us at Christmas – he sent us Jesus. And now we give gifts to one another. We do this to be like God – at least as much as we can. And we do this to remind ourselves of Jesus, our greatest gift.
Have you ever tried to find the perfect give to give someone? Something the person will like, but also something they might need or something that will help them or something that will be kind of unique or fun?
I’m not sure if we can ever find the perfect gift to give someone. But we can try. Because even if it’s not perfect, it can still be very good. In fact, we might even be surprised by how good it can be.
For example, on Christmas I always try to give the gift of a perfect sermon to you – something you will remember, something that will really help you. I’m pretty sure it’s never completely perfect. But I also know it will be helpful to you in some ways. And maybe even, to our surprise, be better than either of us realizes!
I did some thinking this year about gifts I’ve given or received over the years that might not be perfect but were surprisingly better than I thought they were going to be.
Here’s one I got when I was about 12 years old. (Pull it out of the box). Yes, it’s a garbage can. I got a garbage can for Christmas one year. But not just any garbage can… a Green Bay Packer one. That was my favorite football team.
The thing that makes this gift surprisingly good is that over the years I’ve enjoyed it even more than when I first got it. The main reason for this is that it reminds me of the person who gave it to me – my grandpa. This may be the last present my grandpa ever gave me, because just a short time later he died in a car accident.
Now, my grandpa gave me far better gifts over the years too – things like lots of love, a good and faithful example, and passing along the Christian faith. He was a pastor. But this gift is one I can see. In fact, I can see it every day if I want to. Because it’s now in my son’s room. It turns out this gift was surprisingly good too because I could pass it on to someone who would appreciate it.
Okay, here’s another surprisingly good gift. This is one I gave to my son also (don’t worry, I’ve given plenty of good gifts to my daughter too). Yes, it’s a guitar.
The reason this was such a surprisingly good gift is because of the story behind it. When we discovered that David (that’s my son) wanted to learn guitar (and not just so that he could give up piano lessons – but probably partly for that reason too!) we decided that we would surprise him with one on Christmas. I went out and bought him this guitar, but then couldn’t figure out where to hide it. Our house wasn’t very big, and the kids seemed to know most of the usual hiding places – especially for something this size. Then I thought of the perfect place to hide it. Somewhere he would never look. Somewhere the present could be hidden amongst so much clutter that it would never be seen. Under his bed. And that’s where the gift was hidden for the two weeks before Christmas. He never saw it. We like to laugh at that story. And the nice thing about a story is that we can share it every year.
I’ve got one more gift here in the box. I don’t know if it’s a perfect gift, but I think it’s still pretty good. I was very pleased to find it. It’s my gift this year to you.
I’m going to have our acolyte, Jonathan, pass them out to all the kids. Just so you know, it’s got some corners on it, but I don’t think they’re too sharp.
This is a Christmas tree ornament of the baby Jesus in the manger. And on the back, it has a Bible verse – one that I think is just perfect for tonight. It says: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, from the Father of light” (James 1:17).
That verse reminds us of Jesus – that he is a gift from God to us. And he’s not just any gift but also the perfect gift. He’s perfect because he perfectly loves us. And he’s perfect because he offered himself as a perfect sacrifice for our sin.
And the verse should remind us, too, that the very best gifts are the ones that God gives. God doesn’t just give us Jesus, but he gives us the love and teachings and message of Jesus, in many ways – through our families, through our church, and through all who are gifted by him.
I hope you get some wonderful gifts this year. And I hope the gifts you give work out wonderfully too. But most of all, I hope you remember that in Jesus you have the best gift of all. One that is perfect! Amen.
HYMN #388 “Go Tell It on the Mountain”
Go tell it on the mountain, Over the hills and ev’rywhere
Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!
- While Shepherds kept their watching, O’er silent flocks by night,
Behold, throughout the heavens There shone a holy light. Refrain
- The shepherds feared and trembled When lo, above the earth
Rang out the angel chorus That hailed our Savior’s birth. Refrain
- Down in a lonely manger The humble Christ was born;
And God sent us salvation That blessed Christmas morn. Refrain
THE CHRISTMAS GOSPEL (Part 1) Luke 2:1-7
P: The Holy Gospel according to St. Luke, the 2nd chapter.
C: Glory to You, O Lord.
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; because he was of the house and lineage of David; to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her first born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
GOSPEL HYMN #361 vs. 1, 3, 4 “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
1 O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.
3 How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming;
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him, still
The dear Christ enters in.
4 O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Immanuel!
THE CHRISTMAS GOSPEL (Part 2) Luke 2:8-14
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
GOSPEL HYMN #368 “Angels We Have Heard on High”
1 Angels we have heard on high, Sweetly singing o’er the plains
And the mountains in reply, Echoing their joyous strains.
Refrain: Glo- – – – ria in excelsis Deo; Glo- – – -ria in excelsis Deo.
2 Shepherds, why this jubilee? Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be Which inspire your heav’nly song? Refrain
3 Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn king. Refrain
THE CHRISTMAS GOSPEL (Part 3) Luke 2:15-20
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they had heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. (KJV)
GOSPEL HYMN #364 “Away in a Manger”
1 Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.
2 The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.
I love Thee, Lord Jesus! Look down from the sky,
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.
3 Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And take us to heaven to live with Thee there.
SERMON (Be seated)
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen. Dear friends in Christ:
The children’s sermon may have centered around the verse from James – “Every good and perfect gift is from above, from the Father of light” – but that verse was chosen because of our second reading today – the one that the church has assigned us to read, from Titus, chapter two. That text begins with the verse: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”
We can see right away why this is such a good Christmas text. Christmas is all about remembering and celebrating that Jesus has appeared.
The Greek word for “appearing” is epiphany. You may recognize this word as the name we give to the season right after Christmas. It’s a very appropriate name because in that season we tell of the early life and ministry of Jesus, with its texts establishing for us just how good and how different things are now that Jesus has appeared.
Today, as we think of his very first appearing, Paul’s words to Titus are also appropriate because of how they describe what this appearing means. Paul makes clear that this isn’t just the appearance of a man. Rather, “the grace of God” has appeared.
What a wonderful way to describe Jesus. Jesus is the grace of God.
Think about this. Grace is love. Grace is caring. Grace is mercy. All of these are given in Jesus. And Jesus gives them in the greatest measures.
Let’s think about this word in the Greek, too. Grace is Xaris. And from that word comes one of the Greek words for gift – Xarisma. As we can see by this relationship between the words, a gift is to be understood as an expression of grace. Pretty cool. And this shows us, clearly, that Jesus, as God’s grace, is also God’s gift.
By the way, it’s always good to look at the words of the scriptures in the original language of the New Testament. But I thought a little Greek would be good tonight, too, to remind us that it’s more than just the language of Delta, Omicron and those awful Covid variants! God’s word comes to us through this language, and this word is far more powerful than any virus.
Oh, and I could tell you a lot more about those words because of a gift I received this past year. Pastor Lehrer, bless his heart, gave me his copies of Gerhardt Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament – a nine-volume work that takes up about this (!!) much space on a bookshelf. Lots of good reading! But I think what I’ve given you is probably sufficient for tonight.
Yes, God’s grace is a gift. And as such, it is “free” – coming to us without any strings attached, much like a little child receives a Christmas gift and is expected to give nothing in return. Paul stated this understanding most clearly to the Ephesians when he wrote: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Paul said something similar to the Romans as well when he wrote: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Indeed, God’s grace is “free” in that it is given without consideration for the worthiness of the recipient. God offers the free gift of grace to all – the divine Giver lavishing his favor on his children. This is not a Santa Claus-y type of grace in which only the good little boys and girls are offered it and the naughty get lumps of coal. God’s gift of grace is unconditional in that it doesn’t depend on one’s status or good works to receive it.
Sometimes people question this. Maybe even you. In fact, you might find yourself saying: “I’m pretty sure if I go to church, they’re going to want me to live a certain way, support their efforts, etc. And these sound like conditions.”
They may sound that way. But they’re not. Rather, they’re goals. And desired outcomes.
Think of it this way: grace is unconditional in the giving, but it is also a gift designed to be opened, used, enjoyed and treasured. It’s the kind of gift given for the benefiting of one’s life. In that sense, it’s also a conditioning gift … the sort of gift that changes the relationship between the giver and receiver and conditions the receiver into a new way of living.
God’s grace is unconditional (no strings attached), but also conditioning in that it creates a certain condition. A good one!
I suppose at this point we could make the comparison to hair conditioner. A hair conditioner creates a good condition for your hair. For that matter, an air conditioner creates a better condition for the air. You get the point.
Jesus creates a good condition for your life. We see this point made by Paul to Titus as well. Right after he says that the grace of God has appeared “bringing salvation for all people,” which is unconditional grace, he then adds that it is, “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.” That’s the conditioning Jesus brings.
I don’t know if the idea of conditioning is going to catch on as a theological term. It hasn’t to this point from what I can tell. But it does mirror well this idea of training.
The Madison High School football team recently took second place in the state of Virginia – an awesome achievement! I’m pretty sure they spent a lot of time working on their conditioning. It was probably a regular part of their training. I hear they have some very motivating coaches!
Training is important. And the training Jesus gives us is the most important of all.
Note how Paul describes this training in his letter to Titus. It begins with “renouncing ungodliness and worldly passions.” Think about this. Even before we can live the way God wants us to, we must renounce – that is, take a stand against – those ways of living which oppose God’s plans. Sometimes this renouncing is the hardest part. Sometimes we lose the battle right there.
Then Paul urges us “to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” We’re to show discipline in our lives, make righteous choices and mirror the ways of God as best we can.
And here, because Paul knows that this kind of life is not always so easy, he introduces the idea of waiting – “waiting for our blessed hope.” We can more easily find the strength to live a better life if we know we have something to look forward to. It works the same way with Christmas gifts. We can wait to see our gifts if we know that we’ll get to open them on Christmas Day. Kids eventually learn this. We can learn to wait for God’s gifts too.
When Paul brings up the subject of waiting, he also tells us what we’re waiting for. And what we’re waiting for is another epiphany. We’re “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
This appearing will take place at the end of time; when Christ comes again. This will be a time when all will see his glory. And notice just how glorious that glory is. Jesus will come with the glory of God – because he is God. Paul calls him here “our great God and Savior.” This is a clear and strong statement about the divinity of Jesus. Jesus is not only Savior. He is God.
But of course his particular role is to save us. So that’s what Paul mentions as he tells us more. Jesus is our great God and Savior “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession.”
Our salvation consists in being redeemed from all lawlessness – our lawlessness – with the price of the redemption being his death on the cross. Jesus has saved us from our sins. He has purified us and made us his own possession. That means that even in those times when we fail in our training, and our conditioning runs short, we are still saved. We are saved because we have been redeemed by Jesus’ blood. And we belong to him.
Paul will often end sections of his messages with words like these. But here he adds one further thought. Jesus saves, trains, redeems and purifies with the goal of bringing forth those “who are zealous for good works.”
And because Paul ends this way, let’s do so now as well. Here we are, celebrating the birth of Jesus, remembering our salvation, and that is certainly good and right for us to do. But let’s not forget to crank up a little zeal after we leave this place. And let’s be sure that our zeal is directed to good works – those words and actions of ours that build other people up and make the world a better place.
Jesus Christ is God’s gift to us. And he is the perfect gift.
Let us find joy and meaning in giving gifts to others, even if ours aren’t so perfect. With zeal, training and the hope of the perfect future to come, we can do surprisingly well. That is our faith. And we know God is with us. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
HYMN #380 (Stand) “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
1 Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With the_angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!” Refrain
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
2 Christ, by highest heav’n adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the_incarnate Deity!
Pleased as Man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel! Refrain
3 Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth. Refrain
PRAYER OF THE DAY
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Let us pray. O God,
You make us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Grant that as we joyfully receive Him as our Redeemer, we may with sure confidence behold Him when He comes to be our Judge; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
SHARING THE CANDLELIGHT
(The congregation’s candles are lighted from the Christ Candle. In passing the flame, DO NOT TIP A LIGHTED CANDLE. The candles remain burning until after the benediction.)
HYMN #363 “Silent Night, Holy Night!”
1 Silent night, holy night! 2 Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright Shepherds quake at the sight;
Round yon virgin mother and child. Glories stream from heaven afar,
Holy Infant, so tender and mild, Heav’nly hosts sing, Alleluia!
Sleep in heavenly peace, Christ, the Savior, is born!
Sleep in heavenly peace. Christ, the Savior is born!
3 Silent night, holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from your holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at your birth,
Jesus, Lord, at your birth.
HYMN #387 Joy to the World
1 Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.
2 Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ,
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
3 No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.
4 He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love.
POSTLUDE Joy to the World Setting: 1. Wilbur Held 2. Hugo Gehrke
THOSE SERVING IN OUR MIDST:
Lay Reader: Anne Kauzlarich
Creative Worship for the Lutheran Parish, Series C, Quarter 1. Copyright © 2021 Concordia Publishing House.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Created by Lutheran Service Builder © 2021 Concordia Publishing House.
Of the Father’s Love Begotten Text and tune: Public domain, O Come, All Ye Faithful Text & Tune: Public domain,
Once in Royal David’s City Text and tune: Public domain, Go Tell It on the Mountain Text & Tune: Public domain,
O Little Town of Bethlehem Text & Tune: Public domain, Angels We Have Heard on High Text & Tune: Public domain, Away in a Manger Text and tune: Public domain, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing Text & Tune: Public domain,
Silent Night, Holy Night Text & Tune: Public domain, Joy to the World Text & Tune: Public domain.
ST. PAUL’S LUTHERAN CHURCH
7426 IDYLWOOD ROAD
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA 22043
A member congregation of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod
Web site: www.stpaulsfallschurch .org